5 Ways to Tell if Your Parents are Giving You Crap Career Advice

Struggling in your day job? You’ve probably heard: Do this.

Unsure of the next step in your career path? Here, let me forward you these 37 articles from HBR.

Can’t get a new job? Take out a giant student loan, go back and get an MBA.

Feeling underpaid? Suck it up buttercup, your dad and I lived on $1,000 a month at your age.

Sometimes, parents give bad vocation advice. And other times, it is truly, truly terrible.

Here are 5 sure ways to determine if the career advice your parents are giving you is total crap:

1. The advice is designed to keep you safe rather than help you grow.

To be fair, “keeping you safe” is in your parent’s job description. They don’t want to see you hurt. Yet, the most satisfying careers require some risk. They involve putting yourself and your talents out there in the face of rejection.

Melody Wilding writes, “People don’t succeed by migrating to a particular industry or job. They thrive by exploring their strengths, motivations, likes, and dislikes.”

Yet finding those matches in the job market requires some experimentation—which means you are going to get it wrong sometimes before you get it right. The reality is: you can’t avoid risk, but you can manage it. Just make sure you are pursuing opportunities based on your own level of risk tolerance rather than being limited by your parent’s.

Other variations on this theme? Advice that requires you moving back home.

2. The advice includes the phrase “to fall back on.”

If your parents ever gave you career advice that included the phrase “to fall back on,” it was crap advice. This is like the theatre major who is told to get a business minor. Or the aspiring chef who is told to study accounting. As long as you have the idea that having a Plan B is more important than giving your full self to Plan A, you slash your odds of success.

That doesn’t mean you can’t be diversified in your pursuits. Sara Benincasa said it best in her book, Real Artists Have Day Jobs: “Real artists have day jobs, and night jobs, and afternoon jobs. Real artists make things other than art, and then they make time to make art because art is screaming to get out from inside them. Screaming, or begging, or gently whispering. Don’t ever let them tell you you’re not a success. Don’t ever let them tell you you’re not good enough. Don’t ever let them tell you you’re not the real deal. More importantly: don’t ever tell yourself any of these things. Believe me when I tell you that no matter how much time you spend at the office, it’s just a side gig.”

Feel free to diversify your income streams, but don’t you dare stop what you love because you need something to “fall back on.”

3. Your parents are broke.

Broke parents cannot help you make money. They may be able to give wisdom in every other area of life, but they can rarely give you good advice on how to build your income.

Want to know how to build a career that will support the lifestyle you want? Find mentors who have done it before you. Read books by successes like Amanda Steinberg or Tony Robbins. Because it doesn’t matter how amazing your parents are at absolutely everything else, if they don’t know how to make money, chances are they have limiting beliefs that they are passing straight on to you.

Jen Sincero, in her book, You are a Badass at Making Money writes, “We’re generally raised to believe all sorts of sober thoughts when it comes to wealth, such as money is the root of all evil. Or that in order to make money you have to work really hard doing stuff you really hate. Or that if you focus on making money, you’re a sell-out, or morally compromised, or a pig-headed greed monger. Even though most of us love, love, love it when we’re flush with cash…”

Want a career that makes money? Get advice from someone who’s done it—even if you have to check that advice out from the library.

4. The advice is based on a 50-year-old economic model.

If you are in the early stages of your career, chances are you don’t have a clear perception of just exactly how much the business world has changed in the past 50 years. Consider a world where Airbnb wasn’t even possible. Where information was obtained by calling people. Where television could only be watched on a certain channel at a certain time, and you had to be home so you didn’t miss it.

There will be jobs 10 years from now that haven’t been created yet, so how in the world could you possibly set a career path on them? Yet someone will be holding those jobs. How will they get them? They will know someone who tells them about the opportunity and they will have the capacity to develop the skills that are needed.

If your parents are telling you to shut down your side hustle because it might be considered moonlighting, just smile and thank them for their input. Then, get busy building your network and your skills while testing things in the marketplace where you can learn if they have value.

5. The advice over-values your talent.

If your parents believe you are the most talented employee who ever lived and that you are too good to intern or require a starting six figure salary, then you can safely assume their perceptions are off. Again, it is your parent’s job to think you are amazing. The problem is that rose colored glasses keep people from seeing clearly.

If your parents give you salary advice based on an industry you are not in, if they think you are above the entry level work that will build your skill, or if they balk at volunteering because you are simply too valuable, it is crap advice. Rose-colored crap, but still crap nonetheless.

The thing about “crap advice” is that you can never, EVER, tell the administer of the faulty counsel that it is dreadful.

Thought leader, Liz Ryan, has better advice, “With practice, you will get very good at saying ‘Thank you so much for that advice — I'll consider it’ and change the subject.”

Having discretion when interacting with parents? Now that is good advice.
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